Have you been looking forward to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to reward yourself with a new piece? Here’s why I ask: When I first got into covering wristwatches, I did so from the perspective of just another consumer. I wrote about the watches I liked and wanted to share them with others, with the larger goal of getting people interested in this hobby. I purchased new watches from time to time, but I never really thought much of why or what reasons people had to purchase watches. It is actually a good point to think about, given that watches are a lovely little luxury, and not necessary for things like actually telling the time. What are the actual reasons that motivate people to go from admiring a timepiece to actually owning it?
Certainly, there are various reasons to get a new timepiece, but one of the most common is that new watches are an excellent way for people to recognize celebrations. This was made clear to me during a dinner I had with some particularly observant watch and jewelry retailers (from Louisiana, I believe it was) who told me that they are in the “celebration business.” They sold products not randomly to people, but at key points in their lives, planned occasions like anniversaries and graduations, or unplanned ones such as professional milestones and other accomplishments. The COVID-19 pandemic has removed a lot of otherwise normal celebration opportunities for people, and it got me wondering: How many people are telling themselves they will get a new watch as a testament to their endurance of living through a pandemic?
It is probably a rather good coping mechanism and one that at least gives timepiece aficionados something to look forward to down the line. I don’t even think we can agree on what “the end of the pandemic” means, but people could be thinking things like, “As soon as I get a vaccine, I will get a new watch as well.” Or, “Once my government announces that the pandemic is over in my country, then I know it is time for my wrist to get back into action.”
That said, clearly, a lot of people have still been buying watches during the pandemic. Some collectors have been particularly prolific in their acquisition habits during much of 2020. Rolex watches were even more difficult to come by, and a number of popular, safe watch choices saw demand far exceed supply. I have also seen evidence to suggest that, during the pandemic, many active watch buyers dedicated lower budgets per purchase than they might otherwise outside of a major economic uncertainty event. That could easily imply that collectors who have been rationing their budgets are looking forward to an upcoming splurge.
And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to see the world celebrate once COVID-19 is no longer scary? When parts of the Chinese economy started to open up again during the summer of 2020, many of us in the luxury industry learned a new term: “revenge shopping.” The idea was that consumers were so resentful about being cooped up for months that they celebrated their exit from confinement with high-street shopping sprees. China is also one of the only active markets for luxury watch consumption right now, when observed from a traditional brick-and-mortar retail standpoint. Will the West experience its own form of revenge shopping once populations in major economic centers are able to mingle once again? I think there will probably be a fair amount of it, watch consumption included. Better reserve those hot pieces now, folks.
Boosted watch sales in 2021 will actually serve consumers very well in 2022 and beyond. A lot of the traditional watch brand names now have relatively new teams of people who are more or less getting their feet wet during a pretty harsh time for the luxury market. If they see that watch sales rebound quickly post-pandemic, it will galvanize their resolve to release some of the really beautiful products they have been holding back or have not finished developing until now. The post-pandemic world will also see major shifts in culture and artistic tastes. Fresh areas of innovation and collaboration will result in some products I anticipate to be really interesting in 2022 and beyond. A quick return to normalcy for watch brands will encourage them to branch out and have more confidence when it comes to being creative. This will usher in the next generation of new watch products that will serve to keep enthusiasts faithfully satiated for years to come.